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It is very easy to be disheartened and disillusioned about voting. For one, millions of people who live in the US can’t vote due to things like current or former incarceration; being undocumented; lack of accessible polling places; inability to take off time from work; and Voter ID Laws that unfairly target POC communities, students, trans and non-binary people and the elderly—not to mention the general shadiness and unreliability of politicians both on a hyper local and national scale. But even amidst all the nonsense of US electoral politics, choosing to not vote when you are able to does not exempt you from responsibility; it is a choice as intentional and valid as choosing to vote.

I suffer under no delusion that voting is the end-all-be-all of democracy. Speaking for myself, I hold importance in my heart for all that womxn, black people and other people of color have historically fought and continue to fight for equal access to voting and for a seat at the table; hence, to vote is to engage in one important albeit limited way of using my agency to fight ignorance, oppression and inequality—all of which we have bubbling to the surface this particularly exhausting and violent election cycle.

If you are able to vote, I encourage you to look beyond this garbage fire of a US presidential election, and try to also focus on local elections that are taking place.

Inform yourself! Here are 15 things to know regarding your voting rights and voting for people, specifically in Chicago and Illinois. (Note: Points 5-14 are via Chicago Votes‘ list of Your Voting Rights).

  1. You can register in person at a polling place. If you are registering to vote for the first time or need to file a change of name or address, you will need to show two forms or ID, one of which shows your current address. Get your precinct’s polling place info here.
  2. Once registered, you do NOT need a goverment-issue ID to vote. It can’t hurt to have with you some kind of ID or the voter card you may have received in the mail, just in case there are some questions or confusion, e.g. having the same name as a relative or other person. However, if you don’t have an ID and are registered, it is your right to be able to vote.
  3. Try to be informed about EVERYONE you are voting for, not just the US President. It’s important inform yourself as much as possible in order to make an educated decision on ballot measures and people running for local offices, which have more of an effect on our daily lives. For example, BallotReady allows you to look up your address and then view biographical, education, experience, stance and other information about all the people that will be listed on your ballot. You can ‘add’ people to ‘your ballot’ on the site, so that you have a reference for when you go into the voting booth.
  4. Specifically, it’s important to be informed about who to vote yes/no on for local judges, who can decide the fate of individual people in our neighborhoods and communities. This is a useful resource for informing yourself about the judges who are up for retention this election, which contains recommendations from “dozens of lawyers practicing in tenants and housing law, criminal defense, civil rights, consumer law and a other areas of public interest law.” Here is another summary by DNA Info.
  5. You have the right to cast your ballot in a non-disruptive atmosphere free of interference
  6. You have the right to vote if you are in line by 7:00 p.m.
  7. You have the right to vote by provisional ballot if your registration is challenged, or there is no record of your registration.
  8. You have the right to vote at your old polling place if you have moved within 30 days of the election.
  9. You have the right to request assistance in voting, if needed. This includes auditory, language, visual, and more.
  10. You have the right to bring newspaper endorsements or sample ballots into the voting booth. We all have upwards of 90+ people and provisions on our ballot this year, so it is difficult to remember all the names of people you vote yes/no for. Completing a sample ballot, such on on Ballot eady or on a PDF, or bringing in any number of references into the voting booth with you is within your rights.
  11. You have the right to protect the secrecy of your ballot. If there are no ballot covers or booths available, you can wait for them to be made available, so you can ensure your privacy.
  12. You have the right to review your ballot to ensure it is complete and accurate, and correct your vote if there is a mistake or you change your mind. If you make a mistake on your ballot, you can correct it before submitting it to be counted.
  13. You have the right to have your ballot counted fairly and impartially. For example, if the machine isn’t reading your vote, you can do another one and make sure it’s counted.
  14. You have the right to bring your child in to the voting booth with you.
  15. Protect other voters! If you see people intimidating or misleading voters near voting sites, report it! You can contact 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report ANY complaints. Locally you can also submit complaints to the Board’s Election Central at 312-269-7870. Learn more about voter intimidation here.

Finally, while very important, voting is NOT the only way you can and should participate in politics! Our election cycles seem to be getting longer and longer, but once the ballots are cast and the winners are declared, most of us go back to our regularly scheduled programming…rinse and repeat every four years. In order to effect change, we collectively must do more to practice our agency and engage in politics and justice in our everyday lives. That can mean anything from attending a rally for Black Lives Matter or against the decisions of local goverment to participating in a community call-in to state and local politicians. It could include organizing neighborhood meet-ups to discuss what’s happening in each block of our city, creating thought-provoking art that challenges normalization of oppression and inequality, and countless other actions.

It doesn’t take a lot to engage politically. Every small effort, especially those done as a community, can make for great results.

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